The video version is at this link: https://youtu.be/u1Lw7lGvHVM
In our critique of the SAC’s system of hermeneutics, we say that the SAC’s overarching principle of “Srila Prabhupada first” contradicts the Vedic principle of the revealed scriptures as primary evidence.
What does the SAC actually say about this?
Here is their “overarching principle”, which they also call the bedrock of their system:
Page 21: “Overarching Principle: Understanding tradition through Śrīla Prabhupāda, accepting Śrīla Prabhupāda as the representative and conveyer of the essence of the tradition and paramparā, in the most appropriate way for our understanding and application.”
And on page 24:
“For ISKCON members, Śrīla Prabhupāda, his words and example, is the lens through which we understand the previous ācāryas, the Gauḍīya sampradāya, and the whole Vedic literature. We do not “jump over” Śrīla Prabhupāda. We privilege Śrīla Prabhupāda’s vision and explanations over those of others.”
This means “Srila Prabhupada first” (32) before all other evidence.
So, although the SAC does admit the validity of shastras and acharyas other than Srila Prabhuapda, as evidence they consider Srila Prabhupada to be primary evidence.
So, we dispute this. We say that Srila Prabhupada as evidence, or pramana, is absolutely essential, but nevertheless he is not our primary evidence. That is because all bona fide sampradayas teach that shastra is primary, and Srila Prabhupada himself said that shastra is primary, not guru, not previous acharyas.
Some devotees have raised this objection: “Srila Prabhupada is a perfect person who cannot commit any mistake, and his statements are as good as shastra. And if Srila Prabhupada had not explained dharma and bhakti to us, we would not have known anything about Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Vedas, and so forth. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada is our primary pramana.”
These devotees use inference to reach their conclusion. Because we see smoke on the mountain, there must be fire in the mountain–that is the classic example of inference. Similarly, these devotees say that because we see that Srila Prabhupada cannot commit any mistake and is very learned, and also because we would know nothing about shastra if it were not for him, therefore he is our primary evidence. The SAC thus says, “Srila Prabhupada first.” The SAC uses inference to reach the conclusion that Srila Prabhupada is our primary pramana, but relying on inference to support this conclusion is a mistake.
Why is relying on inference a mistake? The reason is it is subject to human error. The Sanskrit word for inference is “anumaan,” which literally means “follows (anu) from the mind (maana).” When we see smoke on the mountain, our mind recalls the properties of smoke and its association with fire, and then we conclude that there must be fire in the mountain. So, “anumaan” is knowledge that arises after contact with the mind.
And because the mind is associated with a person who is conditioned by the four defects of material life, infererence itself is a defective pramana. Only sabda, scriptural testimony (shastra) is free from the four defects of conditioned life. That is the only evidence that is 100% reliable, and that is the evidence the SAC should have used to support its overarching principle but did not.
At this point, the SAC will say, “But we DID quote shastra to support our overarching principle.” But the SAC only partially quoted shastra, not fully. They quoted it to support only some parts of their argument. They did not quote shastra to support the conclusion itself. Despite quoting some shastra, the SAC still only uses inference to support their overarching principle.
The SAC’s mistake is just like quoting the Vedic injunction that the stool of an animal is impure and then using inference to say that because a cow is an animal, its stool is also impure. Shastra is quoted, but the conclusion itself is still based on inference, not shastra. This is a mistake, however, because there is also a Vedic injunction that says that the stool of a cow is pure. The SAC made the same kind of mistake when they created their overarching principle.
So, what part of their argument did the SAC actually support with shastra?
The SAC used shastra to support their premise (a “premise” is a reason given to believe the conclusion is true) that one cannot understand the the shastras or the previous acharyas except through one’s own guru.
Here is a sample of the statements they selected:
ācāryavān puruṣo veda “One who approaches a bona fide spiritual master can understand everything about spiritual realization.” (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.14.2)
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau/ tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ, “Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23)
Lecture on Bhagavad-gīta 18.67, Ahmedabad, December 10, 1972: “Ācāryavān puruṣo veda. Simply by speculating, by so-called scholarship, it is not possible. It is not possible. One must approach the ācārya.”
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta appearance day lecture, Atlanta, March 2, 1975: “If anyone wants to understand Kṛṣṇa, jumping over the spiritual master, then immediately he becomes a bogus. Therefore Caitanya Mahāprabhu says, guru-kṛṣṇa-kṛpāya pāya bhakti-latā-bīja (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 19.151). That is Vedic injunction. Tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā (Bhagavad-gīta 4.34). Nobody can understand Kṛṣṇa without going through His most confidential servant.”
Lecture, Los Angeles, December 8, 1973: “So if you want to understand Bhagavad-gīta then we must understand in the same way as the person who directly heard from. This is called paramparā system. Suppose I have heard something from my spiritual master. So I speak to you the same thing. So this is paramparā system. You cannot imagine what my spiritual master said. Or even if you read some books, you cannot understand unless you understand it from me. This is called paramparā system. You cannot jump over to the superior guru, I mean to say, neglecting the next ācārya, immediate next ācārya.”
As we can see, the SAC wanted to demonstrate that understanding shastra or other acharyas has to be through one’s guru, not independently. One is not allowed to “jump over the acharya.” That is correct.
But just as it is a mistake to conclude that the stool of a cow is impure, because there is a Vedic injunction that says the stool of an animal is impure, it is a mistake to infer from the SAC’s evidence that Srila Prabhupada is our primary evidence (“Srila Prabhupada first”). This is because there are Vedic injunctions that say the revealed scriptures, shastra, are first, before all other evidences, including the acharya.
The Manu-samhita and the Yajnavalkya-smriti declare that the Vedas are the root pramana, or primary evidence.
vedo’khilo dharmamūlaṃ smṛtiśīle ca tadvidām |
ācāraścaiva sādhūnāmātmanastuṣṭireva ca || 2.6 ||
“The entire Veda is the root-source of Dharma; also the Conscientious Recollection of righteous persons versed in the Veda, the Practice of Good (and learned) Men, and their self-satisfaction.”
śrutiḥ smṛtiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyamātmanaḥ
saṁyaksaṅkalpajaḥ kāmo dharmamūlamidaṁ smṛtam || 1.7 ||
“The Śruti, the Smṛti, the conduct of good men, what appears pleasant to one’s own self, and the desire which springs from a good resolution, are said to be the roots of Dharma.”
Srila Prabhupada (CC Madhya 20.352):
Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura says, sādhu-śāstra-guru-vākya, cittete kariyā aikya. One should accept a thing as genuine by studying the words of saintly people, the spiritual master and the śāstra. The actual center is the śāstra, the revealed scripture. If a spiritual master does not speak according to the revealed scripture, he is not to be accepted. Similarly, if a saintly person does not speak according to the śāstra, he is not a saintly person. The śāstra is the center for all.
Imitating Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and ignoring the śāstra, rascals present themselves as incarnations and introduce their rascaldom as a religious process. As we have repeatedly said, religion can be given only by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
As we can see from these statements, not only is sastra the center, but the statements of the guru and other acharyas are secondary to shastra, not primary.
Therefore, Srila Prabhupada says in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 17.15 that one should at once quote shastra to back up what he is saying. Why shastra, why not guru or acharyas?
“The process of speaking in spiritual circles is to say something upheld by the scriptures. One should at once quote from scriptural authority to back up what he is saying.”
The fact is that the standard way of speaking in classes is quoting the shastra. Srila Prabhupada established this standard. And Srila Prabhupada in his own books follows this standard as well. Yes, he sometimes quotes his guru Srila Sarasvati Thakura, because he is also an authority as per these verses from Manu and Yajnavalkya, but by far he quoted shastra far more than any other source.
So, the SAC’s overarching principle of “Srila Prabhupada first” is unacceptable not only because the shastras say shastra is first, before these evidences, but Srila Prabhupada himself also says that shastra is first (“is the center”) and not guru or previous acharyas.